If a television is on, and no one is watching it, I must turn it off. It is one of my ‘pet hates’.
Now, anyone who has teenage children will know that it is the job of the teenager to not only discover the things that annoy their parents the most, but to exploit that discovery to the full. During her last years at High School, and then at University, my eldest daughter developed a most infuriating study habit. Some people like to listen to music while they study. Others require complete silence. My daughter decided that she could only concentrate if the television was on. Music annoyed her. Other sounds distracted her. But the sound of sitcom laughter, fast food advertisements, and repetitive theme songs helped her relax and absorb texts on post-colonialism and feminist theory.
While she generally liked any television as a backdrop to her studies, my daughter favoured a handful of popular American shows – Sex and the City, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and most of all, Friends. We have episodes of Friends on dvd and prerecorded VHS, as well as a teetering pile of blank VHS tapes filled with Friends episodes taped over the last 10 years. In fact, as the show is popular with both of my daughters, and both have their own dvd/video collections, we have multiple copies of the same episodes. In our house you cannot sift through a pile of media without coming across an episode or two of Friends.
Anyway, back to my daughter’s annoying study habits. I initially tried to stop her from having the television on all day and all night. We argued. There were slammed doors and thrown books. But when it became obvious that she would not study without television, and therefore, fail her course, exam, assignment etc, I relented, and tried to adjust to a life of painful co-existence. I woke up on Sunday morning, and Friends would be on. It would be on while I ate lunch. It would be on during dinner and after dinner. Sometimes I complained. Most of the time I said nothing.
As the relationship with my daughter went through its ups-and-downs, my relationship with Friends also went through a series of changes. At first I couldn’t stand the show. I thought it just another in a long line of vapid American sitcoms, with its all-too-beautiful characters, painful laugh track and clichéd plot developments. Then I warmed to it. I grew to appreciate its Woody Allenesque neurotics, its clever writing and keenly-observed insights. And I fell in love with all the women. I loved Monica’s smile, Rachel’s hair and Phoebe’s laugh.
Then, as with all Friends who outstay their welcome, I grew utterly sick of them. I grew to hate the theme song. I grew to hate Ross’ whining and Chandler’s constant need to joke and mock. I wanted to grab Joey by the shoulders and scream: ‘You’re a terrible actor! Give up! Give up now!’ I wanted to make a mess in Monica’s kitchen. I wanted to grab Phoebe’s guitar and hurl it from the top of the nearest skyscraper.
And I became so critical and nasty. While my daughter sat at the computer typing up her latest essay, and Rachel and Ross went through yet another break up, I stood in the kitchen peeling carrots for dinner and muttering under my breath: ‘Why don’t you just strangle each other and be done with it! You idiots!’
My daughter finished her Uni degree in January and has since moved to Canberra, along with her share of the Friends collection. The house is mostly quiet now, and the television only goes on when someone is watching it. The exploits of Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler and Joey are tumbling around in my memory along with all the other nonsense.
But sometimes, late at night, I’ll slip on an episode or two, catch up with the old gang, trapped in their Nietzschean universe, doomed to live the same life again and again, to make the same jokes forever. There is comfort in the idea of some things staying the same, while all else moves on.
And, if the atmosphere is just right, I imagine that if I look back over my shoulder, I would see my daughter sitting at the computer, one moment deep in thought, the next tapping madly at the keyboard, a Friends-induced smile on her face.